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Breaking the Cycle of Micromanagement

Breaking the Cycle of MicromanagementDoes this sound familiar?

Project Manager:  I thought I knew where we stood, but turns out we’re further behind than I thought.  This latest slip is going to have a domino effect.  I wish I had known earlier, when we could’ve done something about it!

Task Owner: I don’t want to make a big deal out of every bump in the road.  Unless the problem gets bigger than I can handle, I’d rather fly under the radar so I can focus on getting my work done.  The last thing I need is micromanagement!

Both points of view are completely legitimate.  What usually happens from here? 

The Project Manager no longer trusts the Task Owner to give her timely updates.  So, she does exactly what the Task Owner doesn’t want her to do: she micromanages.  The Task Owner gets irritated, and further behind, given the time lost on extra conversations.  The Project Manager has more frequent updates, but productivity and morale suffers: a Lose-Lose proposition.

Both people in this scenario think they completely understand the situation.  But do they? 

When the Task Owner gauges the severity of his slip, does he realize it impacted other things in the project, or does he just see the impact to his own work?  When the Project Manager resolves to check in more frequently with the Task Owner, does she understand the impact that will have on his work?

To end the cycle of micromanagement, trust needs to be rebuilt.

  • If the Task Owner is given the context and urgency of task requests (not “everything is critical”), then he is more likely to pass along key updates as needed. 
  • If the Project Manager trusts she will get proactive updates from task owners, she will not feel the need to micromanage.

Where can they go from here?  It might sound something like this:

Project Manager: “Is there anything I could have done to help prevent this latest schedule slip?”

Task Owner: “I waste too much time in meetings and conversations like this.”

Project Manager: “I understand you need uninterrupted time to get your job done, and I want to support that.  At the same time, I need to know when critical tasks are at risk.  This latest slip means we’ll miss the window for customer input.  We’ll have to wait another month!”

Task Owner: “I hadn’t realized that.”

Project Manager: “Next time, please flag me if your tasks are at risk.  Maybe I’ll be able to help, or mitigate the impact.  With some warning, I could’ve negotiated a new date with the customer.”

Task Owner: “Alright.  If something major is at stake, please give me the context in advance, so I can weight it appropriately.  I could’ve finished this task on time if I had postponed some of my other work.”

Project Manager: “Sounds good”

Although it’ll probably take more than one conversation to change old patterns, the stage is now set for productive conversations on an as-needed (rather than too frequent) basis.  Also, the project manager and task owner are now working together as a team, rather than adversaries.

Would you like help improving situations like these to deliver projects more effectively?  If so, let’s talk.

Do you have other strategies to share?  We’d love to hear them: post a reply!

Best Wishes,

Mia Whitfield, M.M.Whitfield Consulting

p.s. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about How to Get the Estimates You Need.

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About the Author

Mia Whitfield is the Principal and founder of M.M.Whitfield Consulting, a firm that helps operations and development teams from Silicon Valley software companies deliver projects more effectively. Her collaborative approach brings out the best in client teams. Mia has been leading teams to deliver successfully for over 15 years. Prior to M.M.Whitfield Consulting, Mia served as a Solutions Director at Talus, and in senior project management roles at Symantec, Intuit, and Quote.com. Mia has been on both the front lines, leading teams to bring high quality products to market on-time, and in the back-office, addressing thorny internal process issues standing in the way of success. Mia has both a business and technical background. She holds a BA in Computer and Information Sciences with Honors from the University of California, and worked professionally as a software engineer before moving into project management. Mia's contact information is available on her firm's website, www.mmwhitfield.com
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